Cul­ture’s stock



Astrong cul­ture is the sin­gle great­est com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage an or­ga­ni­za­tion can have, says Marty Parker.

He should know. Parker is founder/CEO of Water­stone Hu­man Cap­i­tal, an ex­ec­u­tive search and cul­tural tal­ent man­age­ment firm that spe­cial­izes in find­ing job can­di­dates that fit the unique cul­tures of its clients.

“You can copy strat­egy,” says Parker, au­thor of Cul­ture Con­nec­tion: How De­vel­op­ing a Win­ning Cul­ture Will Give Your Or­ga­ni­za­tion a Com­pet­i­tive Ad­van­tage. “You can take peo­ple. But cul­ture be­ing the col­lec­tive be­hav­iour of an or­ga­ni­za­tion — the how you do things; the norms of be­hav­iour — it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to du­pli­cate that. So if you can align your cul­ture to your hu­man cap­i­tal sys­tems it will drive per­for­mance and, as a re­sult, we be­lieve it’s a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage.”

Each year since 2004, Water­stone has hon­oured Canada’s 10 Most Ad­mired Cor­po­rate Cul­tures. Now one of the largest or­ga­ni­za­tional awards pro­grams in Canada, honorees re­flect the ben­e­fits of strong cor­po­rate cul­tures that have great im­pact on their per­for­mance.

Over its 11 years, pro­gram win­ners have out­paced the S& P/ TSX 60 Com­pos­ite — Canada’s big­gest and best — in three-year av­er­age rev­enue growth by 850 per cent.

Whether you cre­ate it or it creates it­self, Parker says the key is to iden­tify what your cul­ture is, ar­tic­u­late it and align it to re­cruit­ment, train­ing, com­pen­sa­tion and recog­ni­tion. To help or­ga­ni­za­tions do this, the firm de­vel­oped the Water­stone Cul­ture Dash­board, an an­nual sur­vey that helps com­pa­nies iden­tify and ar­tic­u­late their cul­ture, and bench­mark that cul­ture against the be­hav­iours that drive win­ning cul­tures — specif­i­cally those of the Canada’s 10 Most Ad­mired Cor­po­rate Cul­tures. It ex­poses an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s cul­tural strength and weak­nesses: what works and what does not. The re­sult? Greater per­for­mance.

For Lee Pic­coli and his Guelph, Ont.- based home­build­ing com­pany, Fu­sion Homes, per­for­mance is not miss­ing a clos­ing date since he started 17 years ago. He says a strong cor­po­rate cul­ture is the No. 1 rea­son for Fu­sion’s suc­cess.

Op­er­at­ing in four On­tario cities, Fu­sion be­gan its un­prece­dented growth in 2009, go­ing from $20 mil­lion in an­nual sales to more than $100 mil­lion in 2015 with pro­jec­tions of close to $200 mil­lion in 2017. Staff has grown to 130 from 15-20 in 2009.

Main­tain­ing a high- per­for­mance cor­po­rate cul­ture through ten­fold growth has been one of Pic­coli’s big­gest pri­or­i­ties — and chal­lenges — the last seven years. “We un­der­stand that our cul­ture is the main rea­son why we’re suc­cess­ful with our busi­ness strat­egy and our vi­sion and our pur­pose,” says Pic­coli, who forged a strong, cus­tomer- cen­tric cul­ture when he started Fu­sion at age 25.

Cul­ture, he says, is an out­growth of vi­sion, strat­egy, pro­cesses, re­cruit­ment and per­for­mance strat­egy.

“We’ve al­ways kept that front of mind as we’ve grown. It’s not a mat­ter of us telling ev­ery­body what we’re go­ing to do from a val­ues stand­point; it’s a mat­ter of us cre­at­ing mech­a­nisms in the com­pany to pro­duce a cer­tain cul­ture as an out­put.”

Fu­sion started mea­sur­ing cul­ture as the growth be­gan, iden­ti­fy­ing the val­ues most im­por­tant to its most suc­cess­ful staff and em­brac­ing them as its set of cor­po­rate val­ues.

They’re ap­plied in the com­pany’s re­cruit­ment strat­egy and per­for­mance man­age­ment, to name two.

Like a sports team, per­for­mance is No. 1 at Fu­sion. Recog­ni­tion pro­grams cel­e­brate those who ex­hibit Fu­sion val­ues, come through in the clutch and de­liver cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion.

It works. Fu­sion has topped Tar­ion War­ranty Corp.’s cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion in­dex six of the last seven years.

At one of Canada’s big­gest telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions providers, cul­ture is ev­ery­thing. “For us, there is noth­ing more im­por­tant than cor­po­rate cul­ture,” says Sandy McIn­tosh, ex­ec­u­tive vice- pres­i­dent of peo­ple and cul­ture at Telus. “It is the foun­da­tion of any and all suc­cess that we have.

“It’s an ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try that we work in, and we go through lots of chal­lenges that are not unique to us, but we put all our bets in the dif­fer­ence in our cul­ture com­pared to our com­peti­tors and the unique at­tributes of our team.”

Seven years ago, Telus launched a new net­work and ex­panded its phone lineup. But ex­ec­u­tives, doubt­ing they could forge a sus­tain­able mar­ket ad­van­tage from prod­ucts and net­works alone, shifted em­pha­sis to cus­tomer ser­vice.

The new strat­egy de­manded a lot of Telus staff. At the time, em­ployee en­gage­ment was only 53 per cent.

Head of­fice dis­patched its se­nior lead­er­ship team to ex­pe­ri­ence what em­ploy­ees faced in the field, a new ex­pe­ri­ence for about 75 per cent of them. “It was very eye­open­ing and a piv­otal time in our cul­ture for us to see the chal­lenges through lenses of our cus­tomers and the team mem­bers who face them ev­ery day,” she says.

“From that point for­ward, we started to make a num­ber of small and large changes that trans­formed pro­cesses, em­pow­ered team mem­bers and made our pro­cesses more friendly for cus­tomers.

“That was a big point for our team mem­bers to say ‘fi­nally, our ex­ec­u­tives re­ally get it.’ That was the turn­ing point of mak­ing ma­te­rial changes for us.”

Job sat­is­fac­tion rose; em­ployee en­gage­ment soared to 87 per cent.

Award and peer recog­ni­tion pro­grams fur­ther en­cour­age staff. Each Mon­day, pres­i­dent/ CEO Dar­ren En­twistle is­sues a memo de­tail­ing a cus­tomer win or loss, en­cour­ag­ing staff to em­u­late or im­prove on be­hav­iours.

It works. Quar­terly re­sults in­di­cate Telus has the most sat­is­fied and loyal cus­tomers of any North Amer­i­can provider; monthly, 99 per cent of cus­tomers choose to stay with Telus, and cus­tomer sat­is­fac- tion is at 95 per cent.

At Cine­plex En­ter­tain­ment, pres­i­dent/ CEO El­lis Ja­cob has forged a cor­po­rate cul­ture out of broad di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion and a mul­ti­tude of merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions. It’s meant much hard work. Cine­plex has grown from 65 lo­ca­tions in 2003, when Ja­cob led a Galaxy merger with Cine­plex, to 161 the­atres and more than 1,600 screens to­day. More than 70 mil­lion Cana­di­ans watched Cine­plex show­ings last year, a 71 per cent mar­ket share.

Some 40 per cent of Cana­dian house­holds have Scene re­wards cards, which of­fer Cine­plex dis­counts and free movies, and nearly 14 mil­lion Cana­di­ans have down­loaded the Cine­plex app, which pro­vides trail­ers, ticket pur­chas­ing and other ben­e­fits.

“What you have to do is con­tinue to com­mu­ni­cate, al­ways — do town halls, get across the coun­try and have meet­ings with dif­fer­ent lev­els of the or­ga­ni­za­tion,” says Ja­cob. “That’s ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal. And, yes, it takes a lot of time but the most im­por­tant part of it is that it ba­si­cally creates a re­la­tion­ship across the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Be­sides em­ployee recog- ni­tion pro­grams, Cine­plex con­tin­u­ally seeks in­put from all em­ploy­ees. Head of­fice ac­cu­mu­lates, syn­the­sizes and im­ple­ments the best ideas.

For Ja­cob it’s about nur­tur­ing a fam­ily at­mos­phere, valu­ing his em­ploy­ees and en­cour­ag­ing a do-unto-oth­ers at­ti­tude. “You’ve ba­si­cally got to man­age as a team to­gether. We’ve got 13,000 em­ploy­ees across the coun­try, and if you don’t ask peo­ple for ideas they won’t give them to you.”

It’s a mid-week af­ter­noon and at the Purdy’s Choco­lates fac­tory in Van­cou­ver, the boss and five ex­ec­u­tives are in the daily choco­late de­vel­op­ment meet­ing and bi-weekly choco­late-tast­ing. That’s when all 80 head- of­fice staff try the lat­est cre­ations by com­pany mas­ter choco­latier.

It’s no won­der Purdy’s is peren­ni­ally voted among Canada’s Top 50 em­ploy­ers.

Pres­i­dent/CEO Peter Hig­gins, a choco­late sci­en­tist, is big on staff en­gage­ment. Ev­ery­one at Purdy’s, from ac­count­ing to IT to HR, is a trained ex­pert in the very tech­ni­cal field of choco­late. It’s a months- long process that be­gins the day of hir­ing.

“Train­ing and de­vel­op­ment is ab­so­lutely a key part of en­gage­ment and hav­ing a fan­tas­tic cul­ture,” says Hig­gins. “We all are a team of choco­late ex­perts. If we can show knowl­edge and pas­sion to our cus­tomers, that’s go­ing to be a stronger con­nec­tion. Ul­ti­mately, that’s what we try to do around our train­ing.”

En­gage­ment at Purdy’s 75 lo­ca­tions in B.C., Al­berta and On­tario with 1,000 staff has been a yield as nat­u­ral as the 100 per cent sus­tain­able co­coa it buys from co-op­er­a­tives around the world.

The com­pany, which also has a “ro­bust” e- com­merce site (purdy’, puts a lot of stock in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. There are daily meet­ings at the fac­tory and the sev­en­mem­ber ex­ec­u­tive t eam hud­dles for 15 min­utes each morn­ing, tastes choco­late and talks about the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Em­ploy­ees are heav­ily in­volved in fundrais­ing for lo­cal causes — more than $3 mil­lion this past year.

And the pre­mi­ums Purdy’s pays for its co­coa, pri­mar­ily in West Africa and South Amer­ica, goes to farm­ers’ fam­i­lies, education that has dou­bled yields in some ar­eas, and life- chang­ing com­mu­nity projects like wa­ter wells and fil­tra­tion.

“At the heart of our busi­ness are fan­tas­tic peo­ple,” says Hig­gins. “We try to do 10 times to the 10 the right things for our teams. It ul­ti­mately comes from hav­ing a team-first, peo­ple-first ori­en­ta­tion.”


Marty Parker, CEO of Water­stone Hu­man Cap­i­tal: “You can copy strat­egy. You can take peo­ple. But cul­ture be­ing the col­lec­tive be­hav­iour of anor­ga­ni­za­tion ... (is) al­most im­pos­si­ble to du­pli­cate.”

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